Student Spotlight Q&A: Shona Powell McKay

Shona Powell McKay is a final-year Contemporary Performance Practice student.

Here, Shona offers an insight into studying at RCS, talks about recent projects, including creating new work for the annual Into the New festival, and shares some words of wisdom for new students.

What have you been working on?

In February, I was presented my piece Together These Pieces of Us as part of the Into the New graduate festival in Tramway. The work was a space that invited audience members to engage in guided conversations about gender identity, sex identity and care to stimulate consideration for experiences of people who are trans or otherwise deviate from their birth-assigned gender.

And to reflect on what can be done to make the culture we live in more inclusive of these experiences. The pieces intended to encourage collective learning and discovery in a relaxed environment that was designed to be gentle and mitigate danger of harassment and harm.

What did you enjoy about the creation process?

Despite it supposedly being a solo creation, the piece was developed through a lot of collaboration. As part of this, I am so grateful to my tutor, classmates and tech team who were my main collaborators. Though, working with the two external collaborators was the most enjoyable because their fresh perspectives and enthusiasm helped me rediscover my excitement for the work.

These were Maddi from LEx Scotland who trained and led the mediation team, and Bea Webster, who was meant to be a co-performer in the piece, integrating BSL into the performative introduction. Sadly, because of circumstances outside our control, Bea wasn’t able to perform in the final work however we still had a lot of fun and I learnt a lot from them about making processes and performance BSL accessible. We hope to work together again in the future.

Together-These-Pieces-of-Us - Shona Powell McKay
© Julia Bauer

What do you hope the audience took away from the piece?

The work was designed to encourage people to begin having conversations and thinking about the discussion topics in the hope the audience members would be prompted to learn through speaking to people, actively educating themselves or just through exploring what care culture or gender identity means for them and the people around them.

What is the next project you are looking forward to?

This term (three), I’m doing a module called Arts in Prisons, which is what the title implies. We will be learning about the criminal justice system, the impact of the arts in prison contexts and co-creating performance inside a prison. It’s a module that has been running for a long time and I have heard so many great things about it.

I’m especially excited to be taught by Jess Thorpe who has extensive experience teaching and practicing arts in prisons and is super enthusiastic and engaging. I think the module is going to offer me a lot and I’m looking forward to how it will develop the people-based focus of my arts practice.

Why did you choose to study at RCS?

I’m neurodivergent (diagnosed dyslexic and waiting to be assessed for other things) and probably because of that when I left school, I wanted to pursue practical training in theatre making instead of a university degree that would involve a lot of written work and possibly exams.

I came across the Contemporary Performance Practice course online and it interested me. At the time, I had a very different vision of what I was applying for; it’s very difficult to define what contemporary performance is, so it was difficult to understand what the course offered.

I originally thought I was entering a political theatre degree and it wasn’t until I started that I realised how multi-disciplinary the course is, and I’m so grateful. Over the past four years, my practice has really expanded, and I’ve become less involved and interested in theatre as a medium, instead preferring to explore working with installation, video art, discussion and more.

What do you enjoy most about your studies?

Probably the ability to learn about and work within different mediums and to be influenced by different disciplines other students on the course bring to the space. As a class and student body we become a collective of artists who learn together, work together and feedback on each other’s work.

I have particularly appreciated how CPP has given me the opportunity to re-engage with dance, choreography and movement. I have a background in contemporary dance but never pursued professional training because I struggled with the conventional way it is taught, but this course has shown me how I can work and train as a dance/movement artist that suits me.

CPP3 Performance Writing at Jupiter Artland © Ingrid Mur

Favourite RCS moment or any highlights?

I’ve really enjoyed studying option modules; they offer the opportunity to study subjects outside my course and mix with students from other departments. I particularly enjoyed my module in video art because of the delivery. We spent a lot of time watching and discussing moving image work whilst learning about the history and contexts of video art as well as creating our own work. We even took a trip to Edinburgh to see a couple of exhibitions. I found it really nourishing to have a weekly class that encouraged us to absorb and discuss so much art. 

Another highlight was a choreography module my class did in second year. I worked with a classmate to create an audio choreographic experience based in the Barras Market. Because of the Government Covid guidance, we weren’t able to create a performance and had to comply with strict rules about people gathering, however, we were able to create work which encouraged the “audience” to move and dance in an outdoor public space which ended up forming a sort of dance performance or mini-flash mob for the people who were visiting or working in the Barras.

The Barras Boogie ©Ingrid Mur

Best thing about studying in Glasgow?

Glasgow is a brilliant city and I’ve really been able to create a home here. The best bit about the city for me is the communities that exist within it. Between arts communities, queer communities, activist communities etc. I’ve met so many amazing people and developed caring friendships.

Any words of wisdom or tips for those ready to embark on their training?

Umm… Know that you’re never going to be able to do everything – no one is – so remember to be compassionate with yourself. It is easy to feel the pressure to make the most of your time at a place like RCS. This can mean taking every opportunity to get involved in projects, apply for funding, see discounted performances all on top of the demanding workload of your course. You have to find your own balance between sustaining your energy and doing the many different things you would like, which includes things external to your institution too. Also, be open to the balance to continually shift because there are so many changing factors that affect it. Some weeks I find just doing my course work alongside making sure I do a food shop, cook meals and do my laundry is nearly all I can manage and anything else is a bonus or out of the question.

 Protect your energy, it’s so precious.

Main image © Jassy Earl

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